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Center for Responsible AI at NYU Tandon tackles big tech questions in latest webinar

By Camille Sperrazza

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can transform businesses and our society, but who will monitor it, and hold it responsible for its actions?

These are some of the tough questions that the Center for Responsible AI at NYU Tandon are tackling on a daily basis, and one of the topics discussed during a recent webinar hosted by Schneps Media.

Professor Julia Stoyanovich of the Center and Professor Stefaan G. Verhulst, co-founder and Chief Research and Development Office of the Governance Laboratory ( GovLab) provided much of the insight during the webinar, diving into topics about how AI can perpetuate and amplify society’s underlying structural inequities. Other concerns include data transparency and privacy issues.  

What is AI? Professor Stoyanovich says it is algorithm, data, and decisions. It is a system in which algorithms make decisions on our behalf.  An iRobot is one example. We place it on our living room floor, and it figures out a strategy to clean the room. When will it turn right? When will it turn left? When will it move around? It maps out a plan, but perhaps it is not the same plan we would have developed. 

Likewise, she compares AI to following a recipe. Several people can buy the same ingredients, and follow the recipe, step-by-step, but we know there is still room for error. The bread each person bakes may not look or taste the same. It is this way with AI. How much anatomy will we give to a machine? 

Right now AI can determine who will be hired for jobs, and the professor poses the question if it is ethical for AI to make these decisions, and if they will be accurate. Will companies and job seekers match appropriately? Will the technology be biased in some way? “Responsibility lies with humans,” says Professor Stoyanovich, and this leaves room for error.

The core of the Center’s research focuses on rights and liberties, labor and automation, and bias and inclusion. It is designed to be a comprehensive applied research and tool production laboratory for accelerating responsible AI practices. Think of all the data that we generate every day with GPS signals, social media posts, videos, shopping transactions, and digital photos. Now imagine all the AI that is being generated into our health care system, our education system, and by our employers.  

AI is a powerful tool that can accelerate science, boost innovation, and transform government. There are many opportunities for it to benefit society, but it must be monitored, and people need to be educated about it. “We must engage with the public, and step up oversight,” says Professor Verhulst.

To address educating the public, an adult education program is being offered in conjunction with the Queens Public Library. During COVID, it is presented virtually, with the hope that eventually there can be in-person classes. 

Center for Responsible AI at NYU [(646) 997-3600, www.engineering.nyu.edu]. The webinar can be found here: 

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